Australian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd usually performs solo, though he has stepped out with other musicians before, most notably on 2010's Koonyum Sun with the trio Izintaba. On Nanna, Rudd fronts an international, multi-generational nonet of stellar players. Though it was recorded and self-produced in Australia, it was mixed by the legendary Errol Brown at Tuff Gong in Kingston, Jamaica. Thanks to him, Rudd's vision of reggae is made flesh on Nanna. In reggae he finds the perfect sound to unify the gifts of the musicians he's gathered here. It's far more collaborative than anything he's done before. Key to this dynamic are the fat, perky, dubwise bass of Izintaba's Tio Moloantoa; drummer Bobby Alu's tight kit work; and Rudd's fluid, meaty guitar skills. "Come People," the set's first single, features the rhythm section anchoring a bubbling mix of piano, B-3, hand percussion, synth, and horns. Rudd's vocals are urgent, layered just above backing vocalists Georgia Carowa and Alicia Mellor, whose chants underscore his lines. It bleeds into "Sacred," where the vocalists meet the rhythm section, Eddie Elias' piano, and Chris Lane's killer bansuri flute break. Rudd is signified by his words and melodies, continuing the spiritual, environmental, and brother-and-sisterhood messages he's been laying down for a decade. But the United Nations collective -- who add weight, depth, and breadth (check the militant, dubwise opener, "Flag") -- are the voiceon this record. The title track opens with mournful bansuri and acoustic guitar and a sung lullaby intro by Carowa with acoustic guitar, bansuri, and Rudd groaning underneath before his moving lyric pays tribute to his own grandmothers and Aboriginal archetypes. Eventually it all winds out with a rocksteady groove before becoming a moving indictment of governments and corporations. While a synth loop opens "Rainbow Serpent," it gives way to a lovers rock electric guitar, digitally delayed bansuri, and the rhythm section laying down a vamp for an Australian folk melody to come forth. "Creancient" moves from a skeletal moaning folk tune to a trancey deep dub call to spiritual arms, with Mellor chanting "rise up" above its pulse. "Radiate" is almost funky with its sonics, echoing voices, and bright horns zigzagging through the mix. On closer "Bundagen," Rudd performs solo; the first part is a folk song to Bundagen, a co-op on commonly held land that is itself an ancient grandmother. On this project, Rudd reveals himself as a gifted bandleader and arranger and, most importantly, a servant of the music. Each player shines forth her or his strength in this ambitious mix. What Rudd sacrifices in individual identity here is more than compensated for in the strength of both songs and the United Nations' performances.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek